Indiana County Broadband Access Initiative

Indiana County has received another major boost in a multi-million-dollar effort to extend broadband access to unserved and underserved areas across the county’s 834 square miles.  An unserved area is defined as a designated geographic area in which households or businesses do not have access to downstream speeds of at least 25 megabits per second (Mbps) and upstream speeds of at least three megabits per second.

On February 14, the Commonwealth announced nearly $2 million in Community Development Block Grant-CARES Act (CDBG-CV) funding to serve the county’s rural northern areas of West Mahoning Township and South Mahoning Township, targeted areas that meet the criteria of the CDBG-CV program. 

The $2 million in CDBG-CV funding originally was an application for $1 million, but in November the Indiana County Board of Commissioners approved a revised application processed by the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development (ICOPD).

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (PA DCED), CDBG-CV funds are made available to enable communities to effectively prepare for, prevent the spread of, and respond to the impacts of coronavirus in their communities.

The proposed fiber optic line extension funded by the CDBG-CV, builds upon infrastructure constructed in 2020 under the CARES Act-funded fiber optic network of almost 80 miles across the county, and is part of $7 million project with which the county is currently working.

The Indiana County Commissioners are in the process of issuing a request for proposals from Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to offer solutions in order to deploy broadband strategies with the targeted goal of speeds of 100 Mbps download speeds and 20 Mbps upload speeds for residential customers and 100 Mbps download speeds and 100 Mbps upload speeds for business customers. 

In addition to the CDBG-CV, the County has contracted broadband funding through the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) POWER Initiative of $1.5 million and a grant secured by former Senator Don White through the Keystone Communities Program in the amount of $500,000, with a total of $4 million being administered by the PA DCED and local funding through the Indiana County Commissioners providing matching funds of up to $3 million. 

Additional projects covering four municipalities in Indiana County and a fifth in Armstrong County are getting $273,859 for middle-mile and last-mile high-speed broadband infrastructure as part of a package of $10 million for 19 projects across the commonwealth were recently announced.

“Getting the fiber optic cable run to unserved areas in Armstrong and Indiana counties will go a long way toward addressing what continues to be a digital divide for the residents of rural regions,” said Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, about grants awarded to Windstream Services LLC for Smicksburg Borough and Armstrong, Plumcreek, Washington and West Mahoning townships.

Funding through Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA) Unserved High-Speed Broadband Funding Program can be used for acquisition, construction, equipment and site preparation costs. In Pittman’s 41st Senatorial District, Windstream Services LLC of Little Rock, Ark., received all three Unserved High-speed Broadband Funding grants, with the largest being $204,134 to install 21 miles of fiber optic cable for as many as 189 residential and three business properties in Smicksburg and West Mahoning Township.

“Once again, broadband infrastructure has proven to be every bit as critical to our rural communities and our regional economy as our utilities and transportation infrastructure,” said Rep. Brian Smith, R-Punxsutawney, whose 66th Legislative District includes Smicksburg and West Mahoning.

“Students need it to learn, the agriculture community uses it to support their livelihood and help put food on our tables, and emergency responders require it to connect with medical colleagues in sometimes life-saving situations,” said Rep. Jim Struzzi, R-Indiana, whose 62nd District includes Armstrong and Washington townships.

Windstream received a $36,840 grant to install 7.2 miles of fiber optic cable to serve as many as 89 residential and three business properties in unserved areas in those townships. That’s part of a total project cost of $195,768, with $48,942 committed by Windstream and $109,986 secured from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.